Arnold Kling  

Cost of Digital Storage

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Phil Bowermaster looks at the cost of storing all of the books in the Library of Congress catalog.

The initial scanning work is the only part of the plan that's likely to present much of an expense factor. According to Moore's Law, that $60,000 price tag for storage should be somewhere around $2,000 eight years from now. If the estimate for the robot scanner is accurate, and it follows a less robust drop in price — say halving once every four years — we would be looking at a price tag of around $65 million in the same period of time. Pretty doable, I'd say.

Unfortunately, the legal concept of public domain is rapidly diminishing, while copyright terms are lengthened and controls are made more expansive.

...By 2018, the storage for a copy of the entire Library of Congress online should cost less than $1000; even the cost of creating the archive would be $15 million or less. We could put the entire Library of Congress in every school in America.

For Discussion. Should this scenario be considered "fair use" under copyright law?

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COMMENTS (9 to date)
Larry Pinkerton writes:

The question for me is who would be the clearinghouse.

If every book in the LOC is scanned and on the internet (no need for local copies in every school)

What happens if someone wants to buy a copy of a copyrighted book?

Assuming Moore's law improvements in portable book readers, a more likely scenario is that you can get a copy of any book ever published from, at a lower price for one chapter. You'll be able to find any passage ever written in google or Amazon's search.

The future sure seems exciting until you realize that computers/robots will be doing _every_ job from janitor to engineer to CEO during the lifetime of your grandchildren.

That will pose interesting distributional questions once human beings no longer produce wealth, only consume it what they inherited from their grandparents.

Mark Horn writes:
The future sure seems exciting until you realize that computers/robots will be doing _every_ job from janitor to engineer to CEO during the lifetime of your grandchildren.
Ignoring the fact that a robot is unlikely to be able to engineer or lead a company, if we ever create robots to do menial labor, I would consider that to be exciting. If only for the fact that it frees up the minds that are currently doing those jobs to do something else.
Austin writes:
The future sure seems exciting until you realize that computers/robots will be doing _every_ job from janitor to engineer to CEO during the lifetime of your grandchildren.

Robots are just another tool to increase our productivity. If you look at personal computers, they have increased our productivity. We don't hire typists any more. Instead, we hire IT departments.

For every robot, there are people who have to design the robot, maintain the robot, and manage the robot. Robot technology would really help employment here in the United States. We would be able to get back alot of the clothing and furniture jobs that have left our country. Except, instead of working on the factory floor, US workers would be designing and maintaining the robots which do the routine work.

Brad Hutchings writes:

I thought that books get into the LOC when authors register for official copyright protection -- that authors put their books into the LOC so that in a copyright lawsuit, they would have more protection than if they had just claimed copyright. In fact, automatic copyright didn't even come into being until 1976.

Then there's "fair use" -- which is not a right, but an obliquely court-defined defense to a charge of copyright infringement.

Te original post sounds more like a whiney copyfighter than a technologist. In such case, I'm happy to sit on the sidelines and let the MPAA and RIAA pummel away against the anti-IP crowd.

Russ writes:

Bowermaster has obviously neer worked on an IT project. While the cost of the physical storage may go down, it's exceedingly rare for technology to last 8 years. The obsolescence will require a technology upgrade every few years and they'll be perpetually chasing the latest storage technology. All of this requires technical labor which isn't cheap.

Paul writes:

In Phil's original post, he states that the space for this archive will be around one terabyte (around one million megabytes). Dividing that by 26 million books leaves ~38KB per volume, an impossibly small amount of storage space for an image-scanned book; I doubt that figure would even work for plain text of the LOC's holdings. (Feel free to double-check my math.)

Boonton writes:

Unless you are a Congressman I believe you cannot take books out of the library of Congress, only read them there. I would imagine a Digital LOC could incorporate IP filtering to allow people to only view scanned pages one at a time of copyrighted books (like's 'preview pages') while allowing for instant downloads and printouts of books that have fallen into the public domain.

Here is a good argument for reversing the 'Sony Bono' policy of extending copyrights. Instead they should be dramatically shortened to maybe 25 years or less IMO. An alternative is to add a bidding system to copyright protections. If you want extended protection (say for Mickey Mouse) you can pay a rather large fee. For Walt Disney that would present a trivial expense but for the bulk of marginal works the owners would opt to let them fall into the public domain.

There is also the Library of Alexendra argument for creating a digital LOC. Unlike the ancient library, the LOC can be 'backed up' to numerous locations in case of diaster.

joe shropshire writes:

Is there a reason to put the Library of Congress in every school? Most high school kids don't have the research skills to make proper use of their town's library. Let's fix that first.

Dezakin writes:

Well, this is a silly post for an economics log. IP law and economics dont actually mesh as well as people would like, and its interesting to watch ideology get confused here: The support of small government, except when it comes to copyright enforcement, which is after all property like a car right?

The role of copyright and patent was not to create private monopolies on information or ideas but rather to serve the public good by creating incentives to advance the general work. I see little benifit in offering more than what is necissary to motivate people to create except to give IP lawyers more revenue.

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